(Hare’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/27.)
In June 2007, the Guardian critic Michael Billington was asked to name the best theatre director in the UK. In selecting Howard Davies, who has died aged 71, over some of his better-known colleagues, Billington was confirming the profession’s worst-kept secret. Not only was Howard the master of 20th-century repertory, the supreme interpreter of Gorky, O’Casey, O’Neill, Albee, Miller and Williams. He was also one of the first names most playwrights would think of when asked whom we would like to direct our next play.
It was Howard’s fate only once to run a theatre of his own. For most of his life, he acted as a vital lieutenant, first to Val May at the Bristol Old Vic, then to Trevor Nunn at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and finally to successive directors at the National Theatre: Peter Hall, Richard Eyre, Nunn and Nick Hytner. All four artistic directors relied on him equally and turned to him first, occasionally in panic, when needing a guaranteed return to quality. It was Hytner who best summed up the professionalism and consistency of his work by referring to him as the “irreplaceable cornerstone” of his years at the National Theatre. “If only I had three Howard Davieses, running this place would be simplicity itself.”